As Jorge Linares folded under Vasyl Lomachenko’s brutal body shot, it was clear that we’d just witnessed something special. It wasn't just the crowning moment of boxing’s new superstar either, it felt symbolic of more than that. Those ‘in the know’ may not have been exactly surprised but on the wider scale, this was another positive night for the seemingly revitalized sweet science. At heart though, this fight thrived for the same reason that so many memorable bouts of the past did. This was a clash of talented fighters that under the bright lights, were simply desperate to be great.
That was clear from the outset too, with Lomachenko getting straight to work, immediately attempting to implement his slick style against the determined champion. Linares was clearly focused on adapting to Lomachenko’s unique offense, looking for counters immediately whilst avoiding the trap of being naively aggressive. The champion had some initial success too, his own hand speed was quickly apparent and this fight immediately felt a little different to Lomachenko’s recent successes. However, Lomachenko’s almost other worldly skill-set soon began to pay dividends.
With awe-inspiring speed and reflexes, Lomachenko began to befuddle Linares in a fashion that’s almost become expected. As we’ve now seen him do so consistently, Lomachenko startled the at times frozen champion, landing offense from all angles as he began to build up a steady lead. However, for all of its technical brilliance, Lomachenko’s style is just as much built on flash and aggression. Considering that, flaws are simply inevitable and in the 6th round, the challenger’s immaculate movement briefly stalled, leaving him stood still, all whilst remaining in range.
To his absolute credit, Linares immediately seized the opportunity, flooring the briefly complacent Lomachenko with a single right hand. I’d imagine that for even the most uninterested viewer, that stunning moment injected some drama. Genuine shock seemed to come across the live crowd and I’d imagine it struck the majority of the audience watching at home too. I guess that for all of his ability, Lomachenko was indeed human after all…though his virtually immediate rise from the canvas may still have you pondering that in fairness.
Seriously though, the impact of this was only heightened by its nature. Whilst Lomachenko may never have been hurt drastically, this was absolutely a genuine knockdown and with just one right hand, Linares had proved not just his power but also his ability to make use of it, even against this intense level of opposition. For further proof of that punch’s accuracy, one only needs to look at Lomachenko’s short-lived tactical shift. For a moment, he simply had to respect Linares’ offense, allowing himself to regain some comfortability within his own approach.
In the same way, Linares wasn't really prepared to chase the knockout either. Just as he’d earned his challenger’s respect with that single punch, Linares had no choice but to be wary of Lomachenko after his immaculate work in the early rounds. This shared respect allowed both men to navigate the next few minutes but in the end, Lomachenko’s sheer desperation to remove any doubt made a difference. Whilst Linares was still fighting admirably, and arguably handling Lomachenko’s offense better than at any point before, the fight was about to be taken from him.
Just like so many greats have famously done before him, Lomachenko had now made up his mind. On this night, he simply wouldn't be denied, instead distracting Linares (and the whole boxing public) with a flurry of head shots before absolutely crumbling him with a perfectly placed body shot. Now a three-weight world champion, Lomachenko had just completed what felt like an iconic victory, a finishing sequence befitting of his quality and moreover, necessary to his already emerging legacy.
What makes this fight special to me though, is that it wasn't just Lomachenko’s story. After a decade of world title fights, Jorge Linares finally proved his world-class worth, even in defeat. There’s an irony in that but it’s also rather gratifying in a strange way. It’s evidence that even though the sport’s perception may have changed, the public still doesn't really care all that much about wins and losses. Once upon a time, numbers other than nought were expected in a fighter’s loss column and in that sense, this fight was a throwback. Without having to worry about losing their mythical ‘0,’ these two champions dared to be great and in doing so, put on a quite breath-taking boxing affair.